Senator McCain May Subpoena Tim Cook (@SenJohnMcCain)
Not long after I wrote about the interview with CIA Director John Brennan and his views on encryption last week, I saw Senator McCain had raised the issue of encryption and Apple at a hearing the next day:
Sen. John McCain warned Google and Apple executives Thursday that the Senate Armed Services Committee “has subpoena power” that could compel them to testify on why their encryption systems on newer smartphones are not accessible to law enforcement operating under court orders.
The Arizona Republican, who chairs the panel, said, “There’s an urgency” to finding a solution to the matter of protecting privacy while also not closing out police, prosecutors and intelligence agencies from lawfully pursuing criminals and terrorists.
At the start of the hearing, McCain noted that Tim Cook, president of Apple, declined to attend the session. “This is unacceptable,” he noted of Cook’s reluctance to appear, as the hearing neared its end.
McCain is grandstanding to put pressure on these tech companies, and he also may not actually be aware of the dangers in forcing companies to put back doors into their systems. McCain should speak with his GOP colleague, Senator Lindsay Graham, who has changed his opinion about encryption back doors now that he’s made the effort to learn more about it.
Some refresher pieces from security experts about the problems with back doors into systems to bypass encryption (spoiler: they always compromise security):
- Bruce Schneier, “The Risks of Mandating Backdoors in Encryption Products” (and see the links at the bottom of the article, too)
- Agile Bits, “Back doors are bad for security architecture”
- Christian Science Monitor, “Opinion: Encryption backdoors are killers of the innovation economy”
- Walt Mossberg at Recode, “An Encryption ‘Backdoor’ Is a Bad Idea”
- Jan Filsinger at The Parallax, “Forget encryption backdoors. The feds really need this (Q&A)”
Meanwhile, the two major party presidential candidates are both uninformed on this issue based on their comments and official positions. Trump and Clinton both think that technology experts are so smart they can come up with a way to implement an effective back door that does not compromise security using some type of magic that circumvents mathematics, apparently, while Trump also thinks that he could actually (and laughably) “shut down” parts of the internet to stop terrorist communications.
The encryption debate is hardly over, but it probably should be.